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June 24, 2013

Save The Bay Sounds Call for Action on Cesspools

Many systems over 40 years old and do not meet current state standards for wastewater treatment

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Save The Bay has called on the General Assembly to pass legislation that will replace the Rhode Island’s inefficient and piecemeal strategy on cesspools with a simple, statewide requirement that will systematically reduce the number of cesspools in the state. In a letter to House and Senate leadership (attached), Executive Director Jonathan Stone called on legislators to pass House Bill 6031 before the end of the legislative session.

The bill, sponsored by Representatives Tanzi, Walsh, Valencia, Ferri, and Handy, requires homeowners to remove a cesspool within one year of purchase or transfer of a property. In place of a cesspool, homeowners will be required to install a septic system or tie in to a public sewer system.

A cesspool is a container with holes buried in the ground that provides no treatment of waste. It can contaminate ground and surface water and endangers public health. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) estimates that there are 25,000 cesspools still in use in Rhode Island.

“Cesspools have not met state standards for wastewater treatment for over 40 years,” said Stone. “How long will we tolerate the damage done to our groundwater and drinking water by these antiquated waste systems?”

The current cesspool phase out law affects properties that are located within 200 feet of the coastline of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s south coast. The proposed bill will apply to all properties when sold or transferred. It is a simple, clear, and long-overdue change that would clean up Rhode Island’s ground water, waterways, and beaches.

“We hear about beach closures from the Department of Health every time it rains as stormwater enters the Bay,” said Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper for Save The Bay. “Less visible, but equally harmful, is the leaking of waste from cesspools into the watershed. It all eventually makes its way into the Bay.”

Passage of House Bill 6031 offers many benefits to Rhode Island, including:

  • Cleaner, safer water. Reduces beach and shellfishing closures, protects public health, and strengthens the state’s tourism and marine-related industries.
  • Fairness. Homeowners with cesspools have avoided the cost of properly managing their waste for over four decades, while their neighbors have paid to replace them or tie into local sewer systems. Everyone needs to do their part to keep our waters clean.
  • Getting incentives right. Current cesspool owners will have an incentive to upgrade before a sale. Communities will get together to invest in sewers or establish wastewater management districts, with funding for cesspool replacements and sewer tie-ins. Home buyers will be protected.
  • Creating a phase-out strategy, which is:
    • comprehensive and statewide;
    • clear and predictable for homeowners, buyers and local communities; and
    • less costly and easier for the State to implement.

A statewide point-of-sale requirement to eliminate cesspools would match a long- standing Massachusetts requirement.

About Save The Bay

Founded in 1970, Save The Bay is a nonprofit member organization working to protect, restore and explore Narragansett Bay and its watershed. Save The Bay believes the Bay’s future depends on tomorrow’s leaders understanding how important the Bay is to our economy, environment and quality of life. The organization offers education programs to schools, community groups and the general public; protects Narragansett Bay by advocating for Bay-friendly legislation, reviewing permits and raising public awareness; and restores the Bay to full health through its extensive habitat restoration program.